His independent ideas and a hatred for holy cows have branded Surjit S. Bhalla as the enfant terrible of Indian economics. In his new book Imagine There's No Country, Bhalla rubbishes poverty estimates made by the World Bank and the Indian government to come up with dramatic findings that could shake up global development policy. He explains his theories to Sandipan Deb.
What triggered the book?
Three years ago, I was looking at National Sample Survey (NSS) data for 1998, according to which 42 per cent of Indians were below the poverty line. In 1987, the figure was 37-38 per cent. But in these 11 years, per capita growth had been 47 per cent! So I asked: what the hell is going wrong?
So what was wrong?
The methods used by the government of India and the World Bank were wrong. To measure poverty in India—and most other countries—we used to use data from both household surveys like the nss and the National Accounts. Then suddenly, the World Bank came out with an exclusively survey-based method, and the Indian government fell in line. My...